Sunday, 20 March 2016

Managing panic attacks

Lottie writes about her advice for managing panic attacks and what has helped her.

- Lottie Naughton

Anxiety is not uncommon and it can be truly debilitating, but it’s important to keep in mind you aren’t alone and you are more than capable of everything you wish to achieve.
Things that have stood out for me in handling general feelings of anxiety or helping managing imminent panic attacks are:

Trying to understand and acknowledge my anxiety
Everyone is different, and different situations will contribute to different emotions. What is important is understating what makes YOU feel anxious. Maybe you’re like me, and can approach authority figures with ease, and attend class quietly and happily, but the thought of social interaction, with no hierarchy in place, no routine and no set outcome makes you want to crawl into bed and never leave. Whatever it is, try to make a note of how you feel in certain situations. Jot down how you felt when you spoke to the cashier in the supermarket. Was your heart racing? Did you feel your face going red? Or were you more concerned about what you were going to say to your housemate when she asked how your day was going? Understand how your body reacts.

When you’re feeling panic rising, acknowledging it can help. Simply knowing you feel afraid is not a bad thing, but what’s most important is knowing that although you feel afraid you are most likely not in any danger. Accept that you are afraid like you would accept a headache. When you get a headache, you probably don’t react by banging your head against a wall because that will make it worse! To overcome an imminent panic attack, start with acknowledging your anxious feelings.

Learning how to relax my physical body in turn helps me relax my mind
Wherever you are, if you feel a panic rising it’s important to equip yourself with tools to calm your body down again.
1: Breathe!
Calm, deliberate breathing may seem obvious, but it will help keep your heart rate and blood flow under control. I looked up a lot of deep breathing exercises online and it’s worth it in the moment to know how to focus your energy on your technique.
2: Focus on your body
Concentrate on every muscle in your body and relax them one by one. Relax your toes, then your ankles, your legs and move all the way up to your head. This will give you focus and distract you. Another great one I use to calm me down is focusing on my immediate environment.  First I focus on 5 things I can see, then 4 things I can feel, 3 things I can smell, 2 things I can hear and finally one thing I can taste. It grounds me and brings me back to reality.  This helps overcome my initial ‘fight or flight’ reaction and it means I don’t end up doing something that I really will be upset or embarrassed about later on.

Realise when you are being unrealistic and talk to yourself!
A common occurrence in people with anxiety is unrealistic beliefs about themselves and what others think of them. Common examples being you need to be perfect to be liked, nobody makes mistakes but you, it is imperative everyone you meet likes you, and that it is not okay to feel anxious. One way to address this pattern of thinking is by asking yourself a few questions. If you are already in the midst of a panic attack your thoughts might become intrusive and negative, but you must also remember that you can answer back! My mantra is usually “Breathe, relax, focus”. I say this over and over in my mind to drown out all the other worries bouncing around in my head at the time. I won’t stop until I feel better and am carrying out those actions!
You might also be working yourself into a state of panic before an event of some sort. For example, you might be worried about going out for drinks.
Ask yourself:
What is the worst thing that could happen? I’ll say something really stupid
Are you 100% sure you would even get yourself into a situation for that to occur? No, not 100%
What evidence is there that supports this thought? One time I offended my friend with a joke. Also, a different time, I told a joke and nobody laughed. I also said something that didn’t make any sense.
What evidence does not support this thought? I have been to other parties and not said anything stupid before. I’ve told lots of other jokes that my friends laughed at, and I manage to talk every single day and people know what I’m saying.


If you can validate your feelings and get to know your body and your anxious mind well enough, you really can do anything. Especially at university, there is pressure to socialise and appear happy and confident 24/7. If you aren’t comfortable with that, just know you’re not alone and you can definitely move forward in doing something about it. 

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